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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Writing your own Murder Mystery

I know this is a bit belated but better late than never, I suppose! I really hope this helps someone out there write and plan their own murder mystery party! Have fun & enjoy!

Also, if any of you have any suggestions, feel free to shot me an email and let me know. I'd love to constantly be able to improve this guide!

How to write a Murder Mystery
A quick guide on how to write your own murder!
So in the process of researching for my murder mystery party, I found a lot of great guides and sources on how to throw a MMP but very few actually giving you instructions or tips on writing the actual mystery by yourself so I thought, why not help everyone out and give them a place to start?
Just a fair warning/disclaimer: I’ve only thrown one successful murder mystery party so I think it’s fair to say: I am by no means an expert on this or the only source. Feel free to consult elsewhere and make suggestions. I’d love to improve! :)
1-      Make decisions.
Decide what you want. Murder Mystery Parties come in a variety of shapes and flavors so spend some time beforehand choosing how it’ll go down (Will you have a theme? How prominent will it be? Should guests come in costume? Stay in character the whole time? How many key players will there be?). Be sure to take your guests and means into account while you’re figuring things out.

2-      Pick a victim
Right off the bat, just come up with the murder. Who’s being murdered? How and with what? And where? (When is optional; in these parties the murder is typically right before the party hence you spend the party solving the murder)
Note: You can decide who did it and why in this step too if you want but personally what worked for me was to wait and decide that later.
Try to give the victim a good back story here. Usually the person murdered is pivotal to the whole party and the entire reason for why everyone is here in the first place (aka she’s the hostess, the bride, etc.) so use those details to your advantage and piece together a story. If your victim premise is too weak, the story will fall apart quickly.

3-      Come up with characters
This one requires a little creativity. Depending on how many guests you have, you want to come up with a persona for each of them to play. This is personally the trickiest part in my book. Try to write characters with your guests in mind so that people feel comfortable enough to go along with the game. If not, people will be uncomfortable in roles they aren’t used to and it’ll be awkward trying to play along (or they’ll just refuse).

4-      Characters (Part 2)
The most important part is giving everyone a motive. Make sure there’s some bad blood among everyone & the victim that way everyone will have a reason to be suspicious of each other.

Also, it helps to give everyone a reasonable amount of backstory as in their own little story. It really fleshes out each character and makes them more than just a silly stereotype or caricature.  Try not to overdo it though; the main focus should be the murder. Plus you want to leave some room so your guests can interpret and add their personality to the character. You just want to make sure you have three dimensional characters.

Note: This is also a good chance to include some side stories into the mix. It always makes things more interesting (bribes, affairs, double-crossing, different identities, you know the usual scandalous stuff)

5-      Find Evidence
I liked coming up with evidence that way there were some concrete clues leading up to the killer. A few of them came from the crime scene, others were found around the dining area or with the guests. These are really useful for trying to key in on one or two suspects to make them more likely to be the killer. OR if you want to throw in a game-changer, you can just use parts of the evidence to throw people off and make it seem like the killer isn’t the one who did it. It’s totally up to you.

6-      Unveil the killer
Decide who the murderer is. Based on the awesome sauce advice of this lovely lad, I also save this step for last but ultimately it’s your call. If you find it easier to write the mystery knowing who is the killer go for it.
In my personal experience, I tried that but when I went back to look over the material, it dawned me that someone else was much more believable of a killer and had more evidence stacked against them so I ended up switching for the other character. Based on that experience, I’d recommend you pick the killer last.
Survey the information, the evidence, and everyone’s motives and then pick the person who is most believable as the killer aka the one with the best motives and reasons to want to kill the victim. Once you do that, I’d go back and tweak some details here and there so that there are enough clues for people to get who did it.

7-      Write it!
Now that you have the whole story portion figured out, you’ve got to find a way to write it into a murder mystery format!
This part can be hard for some. You might not know where to start or what to do so here’s the format I followed.
1-Invitations
2-Rules
3-Character Info Sheets
4-Character Booklets
So first off, just write general invitations introducing the context and settings to your guests. Send that out with RSVP dates. Next, write up the general rules or guidelines you have for all your guests and send that out as well. These should be rules that you want everyone to follow thus, you only need to write one general copy that you can send to everyone. After that, everything gets specific to each person. The Character Info Sheets are sent to each guest and they are meant to be helpful guides in what to wear, how to act, and a little backstory for them to read and prepare for their character. You can send all these things before the actual party date.
The next sets of papers, the Character Booklets are a whole different cookie so next bullet point!

8-      Character Booklets
I’d say this is the hardest part.
Do not send these beforehand. It’s probably not a good idea because if you do, not much suspense will be left the night of. Sometimes it’s hilarious just watching how the characters themselves react to revelations about themselves. So, to leave some fun for the party date itself, I’d hold off on sending these. Instead, hand them to everyone the night of. If you’re doing rounds, make sure you have a way to guarantee that your guests don’t get too excited and read ahead. That just ruins the fun. (I did this by using different colored papers for each round and sealing every paper so it would be really obvious if you weren’t on the right round paper or reading ahead)
I organized the booklets in rounds (much like this source ). I personally found it easiest to organize each round around a specific part of the murder.
Round 1 was getting to know everyone (mingling in character)
Round 2 was murder weapon & where & when.
Round 3 was revealing motives for everyone and some evidence.
Round 4 was revealing more evidence, some alibis, and side stories.
Round 5 was more honing in on the killer and some mudslinging.
Some more tips on how to actually write the Booklets:
Æ      Include some action. It makes life more interesting. People getting up from the table for secret meetings, demonstrations and fights. These really do add something. Try making it outrageous and fun. You guys are supposed to be having a good time!
Æ      Give everyone a little part. Sometimes it’s okay to give someone frivolous or unimportant things to do or say; it’s okay. It’s actually funnier that way!
Æ      Don’t give anyone too much to say though! Try to limit it to 3 points per round or else it’ll get too complicated for one person and he/she might miss revealing key information.
Æ      Try to rile people up and get them to react to each other. This is nice, too, because it gets rid of needing to order who goes first, second, etc. in the round, you just have people going after someone else. It also makes sure people pay attention to what’s going on around them and when to go.

9-      Trial Run
Personally, I cannot stress how important this part is. I’m not saying go through the whole murder mystery once by yourself but it’s important to have someone read it over so that you can be sure it makes sense, flows logically, and works. I had quite a few people look over the character info sheets and booklets which really helped me figure out what I needed to fix or take out. If you want to make sure your story works the night of, you’ve got to make sure it works on other people who aren’t inside your head as well. So whether that’s running through it once with a group of friends or just having a friend look it over and send revisions, be sure you get another pair of eyes and another brain on it so you can pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses.

10-  Have fun!
Writing your own murder mystery is SUPER hard and grueling but also so amazingly profoundly rewarding (plus you’ll save yourself a lot of money ;). It’s so worth it when guests compliment your creativity or confess that they think you nailed a character. So just remember to enjoy yourself and not take things too seriously especially during the whole writing process when you’ll probably be very miserable and kicking yourself in the shins for taking on such a huge challenge.  It’s a pretty daunting task but it’s totally do-able and knowing that really helps you power through. Just remember that probably no one is going to catch all the mistakes or issues that you are obsessing over. They’ll get a lot of fun out of it either way. Trust me so have a good time! :)

A few parting tips:
Æ      Give yourself A LOT of time to do this. In fact, come up with a time estimate and then multiply it by three. I kid you not, these take forever to write (which almost explains why people charge you so much for them) and trying to figure it out at the very berry last minute is NOT fun and doesn’t work out well. So make sure you have plenty of cushion that way if something goes wrong/isn’t working, you have enough leeway to fix it.


Æ      If you are doing a specific theme (e.g. 1920s, Victorian, etc.), make sure you give yourself some extra time to go back and make sure all your content is historically accurate. Trust me; you want to get these details down so you don’t have the embarrassment of a guest correcting you. Plus, it can also be a nice chance to drop a few historic tidbits to make the theme come out more. Just adding little finishing touches like word choice or music can really make a good mystery stand out as great!

And that's it! I know it seems a bit long but trust me, if you follow it through, everything will turn out great! Cheers! Happy partying!

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